Everyone is so excited about the upcoming road trip with the dog, especially because it’s the first time he’ll be joining you!! I have to say I have quite a bit of experience traveling with my dogs and cats, and that includes in the car, so I’m going to help ensure you have an awesome experience.
Depending on how long your road trip is some of the information may not be relevant, so pick and choose what you need.
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First things first, does your dog even like the car?
Does he find car rides fun, tolerable, or would hell be more enjoyable? I’m just saying!! You don’t want to wait until the car is packed to put the dog in and hope for the best.
If all is fine, skip down to the next steps. If it is not, help is here
If you know your dog hates the car (perhaps you know the reason, perhaps you don’t) then my advice to you is – start the training now while there’s still lots of time to prepare.
Helping your dog love the car
You can get him used to the car, and hopefully even enjoy a ride using a technique called desensitisation. What that means is – creating positive associations between one thing and another. In this instance, the use of tasty treats to teach your pup something really good always happens when he gets in the car.
I have no idea at what stage your dog is at – is he fine until you’re driving more than a few minutes, or does seeing the car send him screaming into the night? For the sake of this article, I am going to assume it’s the latter so here’s what you do.
Step by step
Equip yourself with treats your dog absolutely loves but doesn’t normally get. That could be chicken, turkey, cheese, carrots or even something homemade you make on occasion. You want to save that kind of treat for when you need to bring out the serious bribery. This next statement is obvious but I am going to mention it anyway – give him very small pieces, you don’t want him gaining weight or getting ill.
Start at the point where your dog is still fine. For example, let’s say he’s fine when he sees the car in the driveway, as long as it’s through the window of the house. Great, so while he’s looking out the window at the car, give him a treat. The next step is opening the door for him to see the car more clearly (keep him on a leash!). If he’s still fine, give him a treat. Take a step forward, still fine, another treat.
If any step causes panic, that’s okay – don’t say anything, don’t give him any treats, go back in the house and be cool like nothing happened.
Try again later, but start from the point where he was still fine, and slow down the speed at which you move from step to step. You may have gone too quickly. Do this all the way until you can get him sitting in a moving car.
You see where I’m going with this? You will eventually get him into the car, but it may take some time. You could spend several sessions before you are able to move onto the next step and that’s absolutely fine. It’s better to go slowly and take longer getting him comfortable, than trying to rush and setting back his training.
Keep each session short and try and leave it on a positive note.
If you are a bit unclear as to the process, need some clarification, or have any questions at all, please contact me through my website. I would be happy to help.
That’s all fine and dandy, but we’re leaving in two days!
If you are that soon, here are things you can do right away to help:
Desensitisation – Start with the desensitisation training anyway – you can’t go wrong with teaching your dog new things!
Calming music – One I love that has worked wonders for my dog (although it was a different issue) is called Through a Dog’s Ear – bio-acoustically designed classical music proven to help calm dogs with anxiety. To begin with, play it when he is in a relaxed state. If he gets used to hearing it when he’s calm, hearing it when he’s anxious should create an association between the music and that wonderfully relaxed state, causing him to settle rather quickly. It is not guaranteed to work on every dog, but the success rate is 80%. For more information please read my review.
Rescue Remedy – Rescue Remedy is a combination of 5 Bach flower remedies, it is used to treat anxiety in pets and humans. A drop or two in water or directly on his food may help.
Valerian or Valerian with Skullcap – Valerian is an herbal supplement with mild sedative properties that can help with anxiety. Read more in this article “Valerian Root for Dogs: Does it Work?”
Adaptil – A non drug solution to help calm dogs in stressful situations, Adaptil is available in many forms including a collar and spray, perfect for car travel. This is a brief explanation of what it is is, taken from their website – “Mother dogs communicate with their puppies using natural “comforting messages” released from the mammary zone. These “comforting messages“ are scientifically called Dog Appeasing Pheromones. They are odourless and are only perceived by dogs. They provide a strong signal of comfort and security to dogs of all ages.”
Ingress and egress assistance
My fancy way of asking if your dog needs help getting in and out of the car! Whether your dog is too small to jump in on his own, has mobility issues that make it difficult, or you have mobility issues that prevent you from picking him up, a ramp is the answer. Available in many different sizes and a variety of price ranges, you will find one to suit your needs. A very important point to keep in mind is the degree of incline. If the incline is high, it may be too steep for your dog to use, so aim for gradual if possible.
Once you get the dog ramp home the next question is – will he use it? I recommend you allow your dog to check it out and have a go before you’re packing up the car. If he’s hesitant you can try my trick (well, not mine but something I’ve done that worked) – put a delicious treat at the bottom of the ramp. If he approaches the ramp and eats it no problem, put the next treat a little higher, then the next one a little higher. If he hesitates at any time, leave it, and try again later. Start at the bottom again, and very slowly work your way up. More effective if you keep all training sessions short.
If you’re running out of time, and he’s not yet ready to use the ramp, get some help to put him in the car. Bring the ramp with you and practice on the trip.
Read this if you want to know how I taught my dog to use a ramp.
Be careful when opening the car door
If you have been allowing your dog to jump out of the car as soon as the door opens, you might want to stop that. It could be dangerous, especially on a road trip. Teach him to “wait” when the door opens, only allowing him to jump out or walk down the ramp on your command. It’s a good idea to put a leash on him before letting him out, you don’t want him taking off after a squirrel and getting lost, or hurt.
In car safety for the four legged and two legged passengers
It’s not safe to let your dog have free run of the car, and that goes for dogs of any size. He could not only hurt himself, but he could distract the driver enough to cause a serious accident. Even if he is perfectly behaved and sits still better than your kids, it is advisable to restrain him in some away. If you have to brake suddenly, or are, heaven forbid involved in a fender bender, your dog could get seriously injured. All humans are strapped in for that reason, why not your dog. He is a member of the family!
- Don’t let your dog sit in front of an airbag
- You often see dogs with their heads stuck out the window, wind in their fur… they’re loving it. But it’s not a good idea – he can get hurt by a passing car, or flying debris. Nothing wrong with leaving the window open a bit for the breeze though!
Before you set off…
Feed your dog before you go but make it a light meal, at least three hours before you leave. You don’t want him getting sick in the car.
What to pack for your dog
What, you thought you were the only one that needed to pack a bag?
Here is a list of stuff
- health and vaccination records, including rabies certificate. Even if you’re staying relatively close to home, you never know when you may need them
- water supply
- leash/harness – even if your dog doesn’t typically wear a harness, if he’s a bit skittish and you’re going to a new environment, a harness is a good safe option
- favourite toys
- anything else your dog really loves
Your dog should be microchipped and wear a collar with a tag – both should have up to date contact information. In the unlikely event he goes missing, you want to make sure you do everything you can to ensure his safe return. An up to date photo isn’t a bad idea to have either.
What to pack in
I usually pack the dog stuff in a knapsack, and then I spend a ton of time trying to find what I’m looking for. It starts off so neatly organised, and by the end things are flying I get so annoyed. Look at how much more organised you’re going to be with one of these dog travel bags.
During the journey
Keep your dog hydrated throughout the journey, particularly if you are travelling in warm weather. Just because the air conditioning is on doesn’t mean your pup won’t get thirsty. Keep a water bottle and bowl handy.
Stop often enough to allow your dog to take care of business, and get some exercise. If you’re traveling with an old dog who is peeing more often, take that into consideration.
Depending on how long your drive is, you may also need to schedule in a meal break. If you know your dog doesn’t get car sick that’s great, but if you’re not sure then be on the safe side and keep the portions small.
You might be stopping in a busy area, so don’t let your dog out of the car on the traffic side.
Designated rest stops have plenty of light from gas stations and restaurants if your journey is taking you through the night, but if you pull over in a dark area why not put a high viz vest on your dog so you, and others, can easily see him. A flashing dog collar, light up leash and flashlight are also good ways to stay as visible as possible.
When stopping for a break for the humans in your group, never leave the dog alone in the car, even if you think it will only be for a few minutes. It won’t take long for your dog to suffer heatstroke and die in hot weather, or freeze to death in cold. You also never know who spots him alone and snatches him. If you’re traveling alone you may not have a choice, so at least set the car alarm.
Dogs have very sensitive hearing, so don’t blast the radio or movie player.
How to have an awesome road trip with the dog – conclusion
I hope you found these tips on taking a road trip with the dog helpful, and you will now be able to include your animal companions in more family adventures. It’s never the same without them, is it?
Do you take your dog with you on car trips? Tell us how you keep them safe and calm during the drive. Sharing helps others so let us know by leaving your story in the comment section below, and/or on my Facebook page if you’re traveling with a senior dog.